As part of an ongoing joint effort with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to combat sexual harassment in housing, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced the launch of a public awareness campaign aimed at empowering victims to fight back against sexual harassment and other violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The campaign features a one-minute video posted on the Youtube channels of HUD and DOJ which tells the personal stories of three female tenants subjected to unwanted sexual advances by their landlords and property managers. The video invites victims of sexual harassment in housing to contact the fair housing enforcement units of the DOJ and HUD. The clip will air in all national markets and will be distributed to a variety of organizations and groups for wide dissemination to target audiences.
This newly-launched public awareness campaign is part of the larger joint HUD-DOJ initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing which started in October 2017. Consistent with the joint HUD-DOJ effort, DOJ has recently stepped up litigation against housing providers who commit or tolerate sexual harassment of tenants. According to recent figures, since January 20, 2017, DOJ has filed or settled 10 sexual harassment in housing cases and recovered over $1.6 million from defendants in these cases. These numbers do not of course take into account recoveries from sexual harassment claims and lawsuits filed by private plaintiffs.
All housing providers including public housing authorities (PHAs) should implement effective policies and procedures to prevent unlawful sexual harassment. Housing providers should ensure that all tenants are aware of the organization’s policy against sexual harassment and provide a clear avenue for tenants to bring complaints to management’s attention without fear of reprisal. In addition, all staff members who come in contact with tenants should be trained on sexual harassment prevention. Organizations who fail to take proper precautions may find themselves on the receiving end of the HUD-DOJ initiative, either sued directly by DOJ or by a private plaintiff for violations of the FHA.